JERUSALEM: In some of its first acts since coming to power, Israel’s new Security Cabinet approved a series of punitive steps against the Palestinian leadership, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Friday.
According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, the move is in retaliation for Palestinians pushing the UN’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation.
The development underscores the hardline approach to the Palestinians that Israel’s new ultranationalist government has promised at a time of rising violence in the territories.
It comes a week after the United Nations General Assembly voted to approve a resolution requesting that the International Court of Justice intervene and render an opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel’s Security Cabinet described the Palestinian Authority’s request to the UN as a “decision to wage political and legal war against the State of Israel.”
“The current government will not sit idly by in the face of this war and will respond as necessary,” it said.
In response, the Security Cabinet, packed with Netanyahu’s far-right and religiously conservative allies, decided Israel would withhold $39 million from the Palestinian Authority and transfer the funds instead to a compensation programme for the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian militant attacks.
It also said Israel would further deduct revenue it typically transfers to the cash-strapped PA — a sum equal to the amount the authority paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict, including militants implicated in attacks against Israelis. The Palestinian leadership describes the payments as necessary social welfare, while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund incentivises violence. Israel’s withheld funds threaten to exacerbate the PA’s fiscal woes.
Benefits to VIPs to be denied
The Security Cabinet also targeted Palestinian officials directly, saying it would deny benefits to “VIPs who are leading the political and legal war against Israel.” Top PA officials receive Israeli permits that allow them to travel easily in and out of the West Bank, unlike ordinary Palestinians.
Other measures announced on Friday focused on the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Through decades of failed peace talks, Israel has controlled the territory, which Palestinians have long demanded as part of their hoped-for state.
Israel’s new far-right government has vowed to prioritise the expansion of colonies and legalise illegally built outposts. Already, Israel has constructed dozens of Jewish colonies home to around 500,000 Israelis who live alongside around 2.5 million Palestinians.
The Security Cabinet, a small group of high-level ministers who answer directly to the prime minister, also said it would freeze Palestinian construction in Area C, the 60 per cent of the West Bank where, under interim peace accords, Israel already exercises complete control. Area C includes the settlements, as well as rural areas that are home to some 300,000 Palestinians, according to the UN.
The final step detailed by the government on Friday involves taking unspecified “action” against organisations in the West Bank that “promote terrorist activity or any hostile activity.” That includes groups carrying out “political and legal action against Israel under the guise of humanitarian work,” it said.
Exactly what groups could be targeted remain unclear. Over a year ago, Israel designated six major Palestinian rights watchdogs as terrorist organisations, and raided and shuttered their offices last summer. The Palestinian groups rejected the allegations and the move drew widespread international condemnation.